Special to the News-Journal

SEATTLE, Wash. – Steve Torrence drove his Capco Contractors dragster into the final round for the 11th time this season before a loss of traction opened the door for rookie Austin Prock to win the 32nd annual Cat Spot Organic Absorbent NHRA Northwest Nationals Sunday at Pacific Raceways.

Although he had a big advantage at the start (.135 of a second), Torrence found himself engulfed in smoke at halftrack as his 11,000 horsepower hybrid began to spin the tires. Unable to regain traction, the reigning Mello Yello Champion and runaway point leader slowed to 4.984 seconds. Prock drove by him in 3.875 seconds at 307.86 miles per hour.

Despite the result, the 36-year-old Texan further extended his point lead. When the tour moves to Brainerd, Minn. for the 38th annual Lucas Oil Nationals on August 16-18, he will lead close friend and three-time series champion Antron Brown by an eyebrow-raising 621 points, roughly the equivalent of 31 racing rounds.

“We’ll just have to wait for the autopsy,” Torrence said of the problems with his race car. “I just felt it start to spin the tires. We didn’t expect that but that’s why we race. It was a big win for Austin Prock. He’s a great kid. All you can do is congratulate him and his team and get ready for the next one.”

Since the start of the 2016 season, Torrence has raced in 40 final rounds with 29 wins. He achieved another milestone Sunday by clinching the regular season championship thereby becoming the first driver in the Countdown era, regardless of classification, to win three consecutive regular season titles.

Before the final, Torrence was in position to earn a “modified sweep” of the three-races-in-three-weeks test known as the Western Swing. He won the opening race at Denver and his dad Billy won the second race last week at Sonoma, Calif. Had he managed to get past Prock, it would have been a Torrence family sweep.

The No. 3 qualifier at 3.705 seconds and 328.46 mph, Torrence for the second straight week took out Steve Chrisman in round one to set up a second round showdown with Brown, his off road partner in Chocolate and Crème Racing. Torrence got the advantage by a .045-.050 margin and then powered through in 3.785 seconds to beat Brown for the 12th time in their last 19 hed-to-head meetings.

He took out Washington resident Shawn Reed, who had posted the quickest time of eliminations, to earn a shot at his ninth win of the season. Unfortunately, Prock was able to play the spoiler role and move into a tie for eighth place.